Mystery Worshipper: Musical1
Church: Evangelical Presbyterian
Location: Annapolis, Maryland, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 January 2010, 9:15am
A very large building that also houses a Christian school. From the outside, the area that appears to be the sanctuary is actually the fellowship hall/gymnasium. The sanctuary is at the other end of the complex. There was no baptismal font or communion table. Behind the pulpit was a lit up wooden cross. The sanctuary had a large stained glass window depicting a cross in the center and several biblical symbols (Alpha, OOmega, 10 Commandments and others).
Very missions minded and large, with a high priority on education. It would seem that the congregation draws from conservatives seeking an alternative to more liberal Presbyterian churches in the area. The congregation has started at least five other congregations since the 1970s.
Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, sits on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It was founded in 1649 and, after several name changes, was finally named in honor of Anne Arundel, the wife of Lord Baltimore, founder of the Maryland colony. The Maryland State House, built in 1772, is the oldest state capital building in the United States still in legislative use. Many of the older parts of the city are constructed entirely of red brick, including not only the buildings but also the streets and sidewalks, giving the city a unique and quite interesting appearance. Annapolis is home to the United States Naval Academy. The grounds of Evangelical Presbyterian Church include a cemetery that predates the church. Also, there is a Southern Baptist church across the street, and Catholic, Unitarian, and Metropolitan Community churches as well as a Quaker meeting house within two blocks.
The Revd Bruce O'Neill, senior pastor, assisted by someone whose name was not given. Lois White presided at the organ.
What was the name of the service?The Lord's Day.
How full was the building?
The building seats 750 and was a little less than half full, probably resulting from the fact that the area had a major snowstorm the day before. The pastor made reference to the small crowd that had gathered.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Sort of. I walked through the snow to the door, and someone said, "It's treacherous out there!" Once in the narthex, I stood around looking lost a few minutes. An elder whose name tag identified him as Floyd Gilkey asked if he could help me. I told him I was looking for a bulletin. He handed me one and told me where I could find some hot coffee. (Alas, though, it wasn't ready yet.)
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, a wooden pew with a very nice green pad.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I was a bit early and took a seat by myself. The choir were warming up. The pastor walked by me without saying a word, as did others. Two women passed me three times, then finally introduced themselves. I felt very much the outsider!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome." On the overhead projector was displayed a quote from Herman Melville's Moby-Dick: "Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and pagans alike – for we are somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly needing mending."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Trinity Hymnal and The Holy Bible, New International Version were in the pews. The words to most things were in the bulletin and on the overhead.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, guitar and drums.
Did anything distract you?
The fact that the paint colors and the woodwork looked very much like my living room and dining room. Also, the young lady in front of me decided that her boyfriend needed a backrub and proceeded to indulge him.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
In the middle. Basically a hymn sandwich; no communion service. There were some very formal hymns and some songs straight from the contemporary Christian radio station, and one old hymn with a very new tune.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Pastor O'Neill spoke in a typical evangelical style with a lot of ad libbing and Bible study features. He did keep my attention, though.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was the first in an eight-week series on the book of Jonah. He said that the first three verses of Chapter 1 speak to the condition of all people: God calls, we run the other way, and God pursues. In talking about the storm in Jonah 1:4-13 he read the following quote (he said it was from a fairy tale but didn't identify which one and I don't recognize it): "The misery you know now is incomparable to the misery your comfort would have brought you."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Everybody singing – although for some reason the pastor forgot to announce the opening hymn (they sang it later on).
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The coldness of most of the people. Also, they changed the words to some of the hymns, and it was noticeable when I was on automatic pilot.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had to introduce myself to the pastor before he said anything to me. Then I just left. No one said anything to me on my way out.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Though I walked by the fellowship hall on the way out, I didn't go in for the coffee hour. I hadn't seen any signs of fellowship so far, and coffee hadn't been ready earlier. I had heard that this congregation has a reputation for being cold.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – It's a private club. The fact that two ladies introduced themselves to me was remarkable.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. The preaching was pretty good.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The quote about Presbyterians and pagans on the overhead.